Compassion and ethics. Can they co-exist? I say yes, though certainly not in every situation. Take this one, for example:
Today, Scottish authorities released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the convicted Libyan “Lockerbie bomber” on compassionate grounds. Al-Megrahi was sentenced in 2001 for his part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, which killed 270 people. He was given a life sentence, but only served 8 years. In 2007, a review of the case found grounds for appeal, and many in both Britain and Libya believe al-Megrahi was merely a scapegoat.
Let me start off by explaining a little something about me (and this goes for everything we discuss here on Everyday Ethics, not just this specific post). I believe in a world where anything is possible, and open to interpretation. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I find it entirely plausible that al-Megrahi could have been a scapegoat or that the Scottish government released him not based on compassion but rather darker motives (money, oil, scratching of backs, etc etc etc). We, the common men and women of the world, following the news in popular media, just don’t know. All we can do is use our common sense and put the pieces together the best we can.
Ok. With that said, I don’t believe al-Megrahi should have been released on compassionate grounds. This belief has nothing at all to do with sympathy for the victims of the bombings (though believe me, I feel horror and sadness for them all, especially the family and friends of those killed), and everything to do with justice.
In his statement, Justice Secretary of Scotland Kenny MacAskill says “the perpetuation of an atrocity cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are … Mr. Al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It’s one that no court … could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.”
First, and not to make light of the situation, but wasn’t he always going to die? Life imprisonment means that one would, in fact, die in prison, right? So why would his impending death due to cancer make a difference one way or another? As a fellow human being, I can feel pity that anyone would spend his last few months far from the comfort of loved ones, but that doesn’t negate the scales of justice.
Secondly, MacAskill seems to be justifying his decision based on this “higher power”. I don’t know the personal histories of all 270 people killed in the incident, but I can imagine at least one of them did not believe in a higher power and would be greatly upset to find out that the principles of law and order failed them in the name of this higher power.
Al-Megrahi surely took this get-out-of-jail card because it was a faster release, even though it won’t clear his name. In turn, I have to wonder if MacAskill offered him this release because it in essence pardoned a possibly-innocent man (do they know something we don’t? Probably) without dragging the Scottish legal system through the mud.
Honestly, I’m not sure what happened here today, but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t justice.